Category Archives: Letters from Armorica

Letters from Armorica- Shattering Experiences (1 March 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have spent the last week brooding over Marc's accident with the sky-sled. I still do not understand what could have gone wrong.

The forming required to make it work is straightforward, if unconventional; the basic techniques were all in my father's grimoire. I woke in the middle of the night earlier this week wondering if I could have copied his grimoire entries incorrectly—indeed, in a dream I remembered just the page and the exact mistake that I had made—but of course the dream made no sense when I awoke, and as my father checked my efforts and beat me if I copied his words incorrectly—

I have written myself into a tangle. The point is, Dear Journal, that any mistakes would have been caught at that time and corrected.

Might my father have made mistakes? It is possible, I suppose, but my father received most of the pages in his grimoire from his master, and he from his, and so on back; and my father was a stickler for training me as he had been trained. The pages my father added on his own are of course less reliable than those of his predecessors; if a former finds an error or a new wrinkle on an existing page he is encouraged to add marginal notes, notes which will be copied into the main text by his apprentices. But come to think of it, my father has added precious few pages, and few marginal notes either. He despises innovation, and he has always been too intent on acquiring power within the guild to spend much time on research.

No, my grimoire is complete and correct, so far as it goes; but of course there are things that neither my father nor his masters knew, and also things his master's master's masters might have known but failed to write down, either because they were secret or because they were commonplace, but now forgotten. I must look elsewhere for a solution.

A few nights ago I retrieved my sky-sled from its hiding place, and tested it within the confines of my workshop. It appears to work perfectly—though I confess I did not raise myself more than a foot or two from the floor, and of course I could not go far or quickly. In all ways it appears to function normally.

How I wish Marc had retrieved the broken pieces of his sled and brought them home with him! In point of fact he burned them rather than carry them or leave them lying about, a decision that I quite understand and might, in other circumstances, applaud. And, of course, it helped him avoid freezing, which I quite approve of. But it is most inconvenient.

I should also like to investigate the remaining sky-chairs and wagons…but I dare not use my sled to fly to L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau, nor indeed would I trust a new sky-chair to take me there in safety until I understand what is going on. And I do not at all understand what is going on—if anything; I suppose it is possible that there was a flaw in that one sky-sled.

I had nearly persuaded myself that this must be the case. And then my Amelie came to my workshop this afternoon, carrying in her apron the fragments of a plate she had dropped. It was a plate I had specially hardened for her quite some time ago now. And yet when dropped it had shattered. Or, rather, it didn't shatter. It broke into large pieces, but the broken edges are soft and I can easily crumble them into a powder with my forefinger.

Of course I immediately examined all of the other dishes in the kitchen. The plates and other vessels that we use daily are strong enough; I tried to smash one on the stones of the hearth and was quite unable.

Was this another bungled effort on my part? But hardening plates is a trivial matter for even a journeyman former, and I have never heard of a hardened plate breaking like this. Am I that incompetent? Or is there something else going on? I am unsure.

The broken plate was a large serving plate we had not used for some time, we rarely having need for a dish so large during the winter months. Amelie had taken it down from the shelf of the china cabinet to clean it—I've no idea why, as the fragments look perfectly clean to me—and it slipped from her fingers and shattered on the floor.

I do not know what to make of this. Did I fail to harden it properly? Is it something to do with not being used? My father and the other masters regularly harden cooking vessels for use by their own households, and as a distinct favor for a very few others; there may well be more hardened dishes in Bois-de-Bas than there are in all of Yorke. And while they could make sky-sleds and wagons as I have, they never do, but confine their efforts to much larger, more expensive items such as sky-ships…which are always made in the classic way.

What do they know that I do not? What did their masters know that they do not?

In the meantime I have something new to keep me awake at night. No one will flying one of my sky-chairs; they are safely out of reach, which is a great and glorious thing. So long as that was the case, I could treat this as an interesting problem to gnaw on and perhaps solve some day. But now I dread the day, a day I fear is not far off, when the housewives of Bois-de-Bas will descend on my workshop demanding that I replace the hardened dishes I made for them. I had best have an answer or my stock in Bois-de-Bas will be low indeed.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Technical Difficulties (20 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I had a troubling visit from Marc Frontenac this noon. Several days ago he received a seeker arrow with word of renewed enemy activity from Camp du Bûcherons, one of our neighboring villages. The notion struck me as quite unlikely, and so it seemed to him as well. Le Maréchal's forces left Amorica months ago, according to our latest news, and seem to be on the run from the Cumbrians; and even if that should have changed, any troops sent to Armorica by either side should have no call to be skulking about in these hinterlands, but would appear openly in Mont-Havre. In any event it is hardly the season for campaigning, not with the snow ten feet deep.

But Marc felt he must check it out; and, what with the snow ten feet deep, he retrieved his sky-sled from its hiding place and used it for his journey. Or, rather he tried. About a mile from Camp du Bûcherons his sled dropped out of the air, plunging him into a snow drift. He had found that if he went too high or too fast he could not keep warm, so he was moving slowly, and low to the ground, and it is fortunate that he or would have been killed. As it is the sled broke in two, but he himself suffered only a few scrapes.

He struggled the rest of the way to the village, where he was not best pleased to discover it was a false alarm: a hunter had gotten drunk and started to see things that weren't there. The villagers were embarrassed, of course, and to make up for it one of them drove him back to Bois-de-Bas in his sleigh yesterday. And today he came to see me.

He was understandably distressed and irate, as well he should be. For my part

I have no idea why the sled should have failed, and I shudder as I think about the sky-wagons that carried my wife and daughter from L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau back to Bois-de-Bas. What if they had fallen out of the sky?

I must never forget that I am in uncharted territory in this work I am doing: formers have not made these kinds of things before, or if they have (as the presence of our sky-ships argues that they must have) then they long ago ceased to do so. Why, when they are so obviously useful? Is it that they cannot be made safe? If so, why have the reasons not been recorded? And why do sky-ships function and my sky-sled fail?

I have much to think on; and I am more grateful than I can express that Marc and I chose to sequester all of the sky-wagons, chairs, and sleds out of reach on L'Isle de Grand-Blaireau until a more opportune time.

I do not believe I shall sleep well tonight.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica-Penny Dreadfuls (12 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

Today has been particularly quiet for a Sonnedi, for it has been deeply, deeply cold these last days, colder than I've ever seen it here in Bois-de-Bas. Everyone has remained at home, mostly huddled in one room for warmth—even in households with more than one wood-stove or hearth, for the firewood must be made to stretch until spring.

The Sunday routine has been the main constant in my life in Bois-de-Bas—divine service in the Church, Sonnedi dinner with friends, and then, of course, the hot springs—but today that routine was broken. Were Pére Georges still with us everyone would have come to Mass regardless of effort, but as he left on Lundi well before the weather turned, our service was but sparsely attended. Madame Truc was most shocked, but as Amelie said to me, one cannot miss Mass when there is no Mass.

Then, after services, M. Gagnon sadly informed us that he and Mme. Gagnon would not be hosting midday dinner, as the temperature in their dining room was below freezing and they dared not heat it. It would have been a sad disappointment had it been a surprise. And then, most tellingly, no one went out to the hot springs. At least, we didn't; and none of those I met at Church were planning to do so either.

Everyone gathers in one room, I say; and that room is usually the kitchen. If you plan to keep only one room heated and one fire lit, it makes sense that it is the room where the food is! That is what we did: Amelie and Anne-Marie and I, and Madame and Jacques-le-Souris, and young Luc. It is not a large room, but we made do, with Amelie and Anne-Marie near the stove and the rest of us at the kitchen table. I had Luc collect the heating blocks from each of the beds in the house, and by keeping them by us I am sure we were much cozier than average for Bois-de-Bas.

Well, except for Patches the Demon-Goat, I suppose, who remained outside in her pen; but as her pen is now insulated by drifted snow, and she herself by her new goat armor, I suppose even Patches is cozier than average.

There are always little tasks to be done, even in winter, even indoors; but today being Sonnedi we instead passed the time by making as merry as we could. Indeed, we spent most of the day by taking turns reading aloud from some of the books we received from my friend M. Fournier in Mont-Havre.

I would have preferred something Cumbrian, some Dikkons or perhaps Thomas Becker, and perhaps Amelie might have as well. But Luc has only been learning his letters this past month, and in his native Provençese—though of course he will need to learn to read and write in Cumbrian as well. As he has been most diligent, Amelie insisted that we read something suitable to his age and taste, which is to say one of the Provençese penny dreadfuls M. Fournier acquired for us from M. Harte. I regret to say that these books are also suitable to Amelie's age and taste, for she devoured them once they arrived and returns to them often.

For our first book she picked Janvier et le Mouron Pourpre, a tale of attempted assassination, swordplay, and romance set in a past and most unsettled age of Provençese history. Janvier, I may say, isn't the first month of the year, but rather the name of the hero, Michel Janvier, a dashing swordsman and member of the royal guard. The author (if I may use so exalted a term) has penned many books about Janvier, all with titles that begin with Janvier et: Janvier et le Empoisonneur de Gascon, Janvier et le Crapaud Argent, and Janvier et la Mademoiselle du Morte being but three others that came in the same shipment. The books are stirring, lurid, and soon read, and having finished one, one soon wants to begin the next, that is, if one can stomach them at all.

The volume in question concerned a highwayman known as le Mouron Pourpre, the "Purple Pimpernel". This worthy began his career of crime by rudely accosting minor Provençese nobles in their carriages and relieving them of their goods. This was just in the nature of things in those days, and caused but little comment; but when he began robbing them in their homes, and then, during one such invasion, abducted a young lady, a near relative of the Duc d'Avignon, le Roi sent his favored agent, Michel Janvier to find her and put a stop to the Pimpernel's doings. Our hero discovered a vast scheme to assassinate le Roi and see Michel hanged for it, but of course he put a stop to it at the last minute, running the Pimpernel through with his sword and rapier wit, before carrying the young lady back to Toulouse with a smile and a leer.

I believe it was meant to be rapier wit; but perhaps the author simply failed to remove the training button from the point of the rapier.

I say we took turns reading, but mostly it was Amelie and me. When I passed the book to Jacques he just smiled and passed it along to Madame Truc; and when Madame Truc came to the passage in which our Michel flirts with the serving girl in the tavern in Saint Rémy she turned bright red and handed the book back to me.

"Such a thing in my house, I would never tolerate," she said. "It is of all things the most scandalous." Jacques just chuckled.

Luc turned bright red as well, I noticed, and neither he nor Madame would look at me as I finished out the scene. It was mild enough for all that, but strong drink for those not accustomed.

And so we passed the day, finishing that book and one more, in which Michel Janvier foils yet another obscure and overcomplicated scheme to bring down le Roi; and when we were done I left the two books on the corner of the table rather than returning them to the bookcase in the parlor. If I am not tempting young Luc to virtue, at least I may tempt him to read!

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Letters from Armorica- Goat Handles (9 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It is now deep winter; the snow is piled high around the houses, we live by lantern light all the day, and we visit each other by walking through tunnels in the snow. Only when we get out of the village proper can we travel about up in the light—when the day is fine, which often it isn't, and so mostly we don't. There's not much to do: we get few deliveries for the shop this time of year, having to make do with what's in store (which is why we have such a large store-room). My forming work is easy, being limited only by the raw materials I have at hand and my own know-how, so I am busy enough; but for the most part we in Bois-de-Bas spend our time working on small things and visiting each other to complain about the weather.

As a result, my crew of older men who play checkers and gossip in the front part of my workshop is if anything larger in bad weather than in fine, though it takes them a little longer to gather. If I go down first thing I can usually count on having the workshop to myself for an hour or so, except for Luc asleep under the bench.

I was much taken aback, then, to enter my workshop this morning and discover that the pot-bellied stove in the front of the shop was already quite hot (for we bank it at night); and not only that, the settee was occupied by a reclining form wrapped in a blanket. We do not lock our doors at night in Bois-de-Bas, so anyone might have entered in search of shelter, and welcome to it; but why not come to the front door? The settee is comfortable enough to sit on, for a hard wooden bench, but I should not like to sleep on it.

The figure roused as I entered, and sat up; and I found that it was Jacques-le-Souris. The freshly married Jacque-le-Souris, who should have been in bed in quite another part of the house altogether with his new bride, Madame Truc.

Though I suppose she is no longer Madame Truc, but to call her Madame Le Souris is unthinkable (Madame not being mouse-like in the slightest) and also wrong, because "le-Souris" is only a nick name. In fact, I have just this minute realized that I do not know what Jacques' full name really is. How odd.

For a man who had spent at least part of the night on a wooden settee, Jacques looked surprisingly cheerful.

"Eh, I know, Armand," he said placidly. "It is her way. Back in Mont-Havre, you remember, she would send me down to a lower spot at the table when she was displeased with me, or cast me out altogether for a day or two. Now, all she can do is make me sleep somewhere else." He shrugged. "We are who we are, even now that we are married. C'est bon."

"But what did you—never mind, Jacques. Best you return to bed, before Amelie rises. Perhaps Madame will have forgiven you by now."

He nodded, and gathering his blankets about him he made his way from the room as dignified as a prophet.

After that I rousted out Luc and sent him to go feed Patches the goat, snug in her new pen, and got to work. We broke our fasts an hour or so later, when Amelie rose, and it was late morning before I realized how quiet my workshop was. Luc was in the main shop for his lessons with Amelie; Jacques was presumably still in bed; and none of my other gentlemen had appeared.

What could be keeping them? Had the snow tunnel to our porch collapsed? It had been a cold, quiet night, with no new snow, so far as I could tell. I went to the front door of my workshop to take a look, and when I opened the door, I found Patches the goat reclining on the porch with her back to it. She looked up at me with her weird goat eyes and made that horrible rasping noise she makes; and then, to my horror, begin to get to her feet. I slammed the door.

"Luc!" I called.

"Oui, monsieur?" came his voice from next door, followed by the sound of footsteps. He opened the door from Amelie's shop and stuck his head through.

"Luc, did you leave the goat pen open?"

His eyes got big.

"O non, monsieur. Jamais! Patches, she is fierce!"

"She is also on the porch. Go get your gear and take her back to her pen."

He took a deep breath. "Oui, monsieur."

That was one mystery solved, but several more in its place. First, how was Patches getting out of her pen? Second, how to keep Patches in her pen? Third, how to keep her from terrorizing my neighbors when she did get out?

I sat down on the settee by the pot-bellied stove, and pondered. I'd been considering the problem as a sometime keeper-of-goats; perhaps it was time to consider the problem as a master former.

Perhaps I could harden her pen in some way, to prevent her from doing whatever it was she was doing to escape? But more importantly, since locking down the pen was liable to involve much trial-and-error, how could I mitigate her nasty horns and highly abrasive coat in the meantime, so that she would less of a danger to the clothing, skin, and flesh of anyone who mer her unprepared?

The second being the more pressing problem, I found some scraps of leather and got to work; and by early afternoon I'd found a solution. I called Luc, we both donned our protective gear, and we went out and measured her. We escaped bruised but otherwise unharmed. Then I got busy with shears and Amelie's heaviest thread and needle, while perusing a few pages of my grimoire that I had never thought to actually use; and at the end of the day, we dragged Patches back to her pen (for she'd gotten out again) and dressed her in her new garments of hardened leather.

I say "hardened," but that's misleading because I had taken care to keep the leather supple. "Strengthened" might be a better word; or perhaps, "goat proof". Patches now wore a kind of surcoat of leather on her body, attached by hardened straps around her front and middle so that there was no way for her to rid herself of it. Now bumping up against someone would no longer tear holes in their garments.

I'd also attached close-fitting leather covers to her horns and hooves, hiding the sharpness away from the world. The horn covers I attached permanently, bonding them to the horn; and better still they were joined at the top by a length of hardened wood wrapped in hardened leather, so that horns and handle made a kind of upside-down "U" shape. A similar wooden handle was affixed to her leather surcoat approximately in the middle of her back, giving the unlucky goat tender two convenient handholds by which to drag her back to her pen.

When we were finished, Patches looked like nothing anyone had ever seen before; but I am confident that she presents much less of a risk to others.

I shall have to find some better solution before the weather warms up, as I fear that wearing the leather coat will be bad for her in the heat; but this will be a help while we figure out how to escape-proof her pen.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- A Wedding (5 February 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have been remiss, quite completely remiss, in not recording the on-going story of Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris. Not that you care, of course; but myself, in the future, I will want to remember the details.

Looking back, I see that it was almost a month ago that I suggested to Jacques that perhaps Madame Truc had been waiting for him to declare himself. He did, I gather, in his fumble-fingered way; and there followed a week of searching gazes and pondering expressions (and much less banter and badinage than I am used to from them). Amelie and I pretended not to notice, of course, and it was by mere chance that I happened to overhear the denouement, as it were.

"Jacques," cried Madame Truc, "what is it you are doing? Following me about, with the greatest constancy, adjusting the chairs and offering me pillows? It is of the most tiresome!"

Jacques' response was abashed, most unlike him, but I mentally applauded him for his perseverance:

"But, Madame Truc, je t'aime, n'est-ce-pas?"

"Naturellement, petit Jacques, for who could not? It is of all things the most reasonable," she said. "I see that I must give into your demands, or peace, there will be none for me! But you must stop this foolish pillowing behavior."

But of course it wasn't that simple, for Madame Truc was a fine lady from Mont-Havre, and she knew what was due her, she did, and so she told him. It was fine for Amelie and I to marry in quite a fly-by-night way (as indeed we did, for the village conspired that Amelie and I should spend the night under the same roof during a snowstorm, which would quite ruin her reputation if we did not marry post haste; and so we stood up together in the Church the next Sonnedi, and did so again some months later when next the priest came to Bois-de-Bas). For we were young and foolish and rash, she said. But Madame Truc was a grown woman, she was, and was not about to rush into anything!

And so they announced to us over supper a couple of weeks ago that they planned to marry "as soon as is convenable"; and then poor Jacques had to pack his things and go off and stay with Marc and Elise on the farm, for Madame Truc would not remain a single night under the same roof with him until they were wed properly, by a priest, for she had her reputation to think of!

It is really a thing of the most foolish, as Madame herself would say; for she has lived under the same roof as Jacques-le-Souris these many years, and no one would doubt the devotion the pair have for each other. And more, Madame's reputation is quite strong enough, even after such a short time as she has been in Bois-de-Bas, to overcome any number of social proprieties. She is a force of nature, she is, and the folk of our village are accustomed to paying all due respect to such, living closer to nature than do the folks of Mont-Havre. And indeed, making the announcement in Church of a Sonnedi is really all that local proprieties require!

But that was not good enough; and so I breathed a sigh of relief when Pére Georges arrived in Bois-de-Bas yesterday. We never know when to expect him, for his circuits depend on the weather and many other things; but he was here, and sooner than I would have expected. Amelie immediately went to Madame Truc and told her that she and Jacques could be wed the following day.

"So soon? But my trousseau, it is quite unfinished."

"Nevertheless," said my Amelie with great firmness. "For it is the most unfair to keep poor Jacques waiting, now that Pére Georges has come. I saw him in Armand's workshop yesterday, and he looked quite miserable to be parted from you like this!"

And so Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris made their vows today, and are sharing a room; and it is to be hoped that tomorrow I shall be able to resume the use of my study.

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Town Hall (29 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

I have been pondering much over the last couple of weeks, about town government, proper hygiene, and social contact. Also, I seem to have acquired a goat.

Regarding access to the hot springs, I have determined several things.

First, our newcomers will never be fully assimilated into our town so long as they are excluded from the springs. It is the one place where everyone has time to chat. Anyone may speak to anyone in the springs.

Second, excluding anyone from the comfort of the springs during January in Bois-de-Bas is more cruel than I can say. It is the one place in town (outside of one's bed) where one can truly be warm all over at this time of year.

Third, there really is no way to accommodate everyone at the same time. There are more grottos, and more hot water, but the early settlers had no difficulty identifying the two largest and most comfortable, and there is no real way to enlarge either of them. Possibly we could build a much larger bath house adjacent to the springs, and supplied by them…but that would necessitate demolishing a number of homes. And, in fact, there would be plenty of room if only we did not insist on seating everyone at once for town meetings.

No, we have two choices: either we must continue to accord all newcomers a second class of citizenship—and I may say that the good men of Bois-de-Bas all looked rather sheepish when I broached this notion at the springs this afternoon—or we must find another place in which to conduct business.

The obvious answer is a kind of town hall, big enough to hold everyone at once, if for limited periods of time. And if it is hard to heat in the winter, at least our business shall be conducted swiftly! Though I might consider building a warming block into the seat of the presider's chair….

I proposed this this afternoon, and was immediately told that this is the wrong time of year for building—as if I couldn't see that for myself, what with the snow all around. So I told them to think on it, and discuss it with their wives, and we will address it again when the weather is warmer.

In the meantime, it appears that I shall have to construct a solid pen for Patches the goat, if only as a matter of self defense, for it appears that I shall never be rid of her. Over the past weeks I have found her on my roof; I have found her at my door; I have found her at the hot springs; and this morning, I found her at my bedside, affectionately taking the night's whiskers off of my cheek with her tongue—along with a certain quantity of skin.

Amelie is darning the holes in my nightshirt as I write these words; the quilt, alas, will take longer to replace, as will my nerves.

I am not sure how Patches opened the front door to the house, but open it was; and so was the gate to the goat pen at Marc's farm; and somehow she had managed to gnaw through the leather-bound chain used to restrain her.

I say that I have found her in these places, but it is entirely more correct to say that in each case Patches has found me! What has brought her to this misguided affection for me, I do not know, nor what I might have done to foster it. It certainly was not my intent to do so! But it seems that I must now give her house room, for Marc is done with fetching her home, he tells me; and I can only hope that if I give her a pen behind the shop and visit her frequently that perhaps I will not find her in my bedchamber of a morning.

At least I will not have to milk her myself: that is what apprentices are for!

Next letter

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Letters from Armorica- Monsieur Laveau (22 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

It has taken me almost two weeks, but I have finally had a talk with Bertrand's father, M. Laveau. The Laveau's live at the far end of the village from us, and though I have several times set out in that direction I always seem to be stopped by someone else before I get there. More than that, though I have caught sight of him at the church and the hot springs he has avoided my eye, and slipped away before I can speak with him.

One of the perquisites of my position in Bois-de-Bois, however, is the use of a private chamber in the hot springs—I chamber I know from my own interview with Onc' Herbert, shortly after I came to the village. This afternoon I went there when I reached the springs, leaving it to Marc to snag M. Laveau and bring him to join me.

He was both hangdog and sullen when Marc led him in, and sat down on the bench in the hot water in silence.

After Marc left, I said, "M. Laveau, I want to speak to you of your son Bertrand."

He still didn't look at me, but he muttered, "He's my son, not yours."

"Yes, I was afraid it might be like that. But I said I want to speak to you of him, not about him. As you say, you are his father, and it is not for me to come between you."

He looked at me suspiciously out of the corner one eye, not turning his head.

"M. Laveau, has he spoken to you about his time on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau?"

"Oui, and all about you!" He looked like he wanted to spit, and I am sure that if we had been outside he would have.

"Let me tell you of him, instead. First, you probably imagine that he strays over to my workshop to see me. Nothing could be further from the case."

"Merde."

"I speak truly. During his time on the island he became close friends with my apprentice, Luc. I assure you, at the hour when Bertrand comes to see Luc, I am warm in my bed, moi.

"But more importantly, let me tell you about his service. You have much to be proud of."

And then I told him about the flock of boys, and Bertrand's leadership of them, and how they kept watch for the village and helped out in so many other ways. By the end of my tale, M. Laveau was facing me, and shaking his head in amazement.

"Bertrand is not the same boy who was sent to the island for his own safety," I concluded. "He grew to an extraordinary degree during our time there. I have not spoken to him about it myself, but from what I have overheard I think he chafes at being treated like a child."

M. Laveau bridled at that, a bit, but I waved it away. "It isn't for me to say, M. Laveau. But if he were my son I believe I'd load him down with adult responsibilities—real ones, that matter."

And at that I bowed my head to him, rose and left for the main chamber. And so we shall see.

Next letter
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photo credit: Free Public Domain Illustrations by rawpixel Two crayfish by Julie de Graag (1877-1924). Original from the Rijks Museum. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Legless (19 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Jack,

O! I am sorry to hear about your leg! But at least I need no longer worry that you might have died in the fighting—or worse, that His Majesty might send you to pacify his new province of Armorica. Yes, I fear that will come, now that Cumbrian troops are fighting in Provençe. Le Maréchal is done for, it seems to me, and my wife's motherland can no longer hope to hold onto its possessions abroad.

It may well be that my new countrymen would welcome Cumbrian rule with open arms; Le Maréchal is not popular here, at least in my own little locale. But it would also depend on the weight of His Majesty's rule here. There will be but little love where there is no intent to be loved.

But enough of that. You want news—and as you have given me more news of the situation between Cumbria and Provençe than I have had in many months, as well as the excellent news of your own good (if slightly truncated) health, why, I must do my best to repay the favor.

It is hard to know where to begin, for I have been writing you letters in my head (and sometimes in my journal) this past year. I have no memory of what I've told you and what I haven't. So let me begin at the beginning.

I left Cumbria not quite two years ago. I settled first in Mont-Havre; and then, when Le Maréchal began his war I joined my friends Marc & Elise Frontenac in a country village called Bois-de-Bas. (But clearly you know that much, for your letter reached me here!) Here I met my wife Amelie, and with her took over her father's shop on his passing, and so moved up from goatherd to shopkeeper. And then two things happened that have had effects I never would have anticipated.

First, I discovered that the Armorican Former's Guild (the Confrerie des Thaumaturges, as they call it here) was defunct. Several masters came here from Toulouse in the early days of the colony, but the survivors soon returned to Provençe—and that meant that I, your cousin Armand, would by guild law be the head of the Armorican guild! If, that is, I were a master rather than a journeyman. I immediately wrote to my father and your mother, have two arrows to my bow; and now (after I still do not know what machinations) I have my master's chain and indisputable seniority. Astonishing! (If you could make some quiet inquiries to find out exactly how it happened, I'd be grateful. No one is talking to me about it, and so I still don't know whom to thank.)

But Le Maréchal's spies read my letter, and his troops came looking for me, presumably so that I could use my skills in support of his war. That led to a fraught situation or two, and in the aftermath I found that the folk of Bois-de-Bas were looking to me for leadership—not solely to me, you understand, but somehow I acquired responsibilities, a great many responsibilities, completely on top of my normal work. I won't put the details to paper, not when the future of Armorica is so uncertain; but I hope one day you will come to us, and then I am sure we shall see the night out with our tales!

But the upshot of these things is that now I seem to be more or less the mayor of Bois-de-Bas. It is an unofficial position, with no high seat but a particular spot in the hot springs of a Sunday afternoon, no courtiers but a collection of old men who occupy the front of my workshop the rest of the week, and no pomp whatsoever; but it is real enough. The previous "mayor" was my friend Marc Frontenac's uncle Herbert de Néant, who was killed by the Provençese cochons. (Having met them, I'm sure you understand what I mean by that term.) Marc and I were more or less his lieutenants during the hostilities, and I rather wish Marc lived in the village proper rather than on what used to be Onc' Herbert's farm, because then he might have gotten the job instead of me.

How you must be laughing at me right now! Truly, I hope you are; though I made light of it above, I know how the loss of a leg must be affecting you. I do hope you will manage to come to us, though it make your dear mother despair! There is work for you, and young ladies for whom your loss would be a badge of honor rather than a liability. And I should deeply like it if my little Anne-Marie could know my favorite cousin.

Your affectionate cousin,

Armand

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photo credit: The British Library Image taken from page 53 of ‘Every-day Characters … Illustrated by C. Aldin’ via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- Growing Pains (15 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

The goat came back today.

It is Sunday, and after Sunday dinner the bulk of the population of Bois-de-Bas headed off to the hot springs as it usual in times of peace. I say the bulk of the population: small children, of course, do not, nor do those who care for them. (In our case, Madame Truc and Jacques-le-Souris stayed behind with little Anne-Marie.) But there is another group as well: those, mostly young men, who came to Bois-de-Bois during the hostilities and have remained here.

It seems that the hot springs have always been by invitation only: not as an official policy, as it were, but as a matter of custom. Marc and Elise were invited by Marc's Onc' Herbert; and I was invited by them—after Onc' Herbert determined that I wasn't above caring for his goats. The folk of Bois-de-Bois respect learning and wit, but they respect a willingness to do the dirty jobs even more. And so I was welcomed to the springs of a Sunday, all unknowing that another man might not have been.

But the young men who came to Bois-de-Bas during the hostilities and have remained here mostly have not been. A few have, those who have come to know the local families and have married or are courting local girls; but not most, and it is beginning to cause some friction. These men have fought for Armorica against le Maréchal's troops, but they are shut out from the social life of the village—and not just from the social life, of course, but the political life as well, since what passes for politics mostly takes place at the springs.

One of them, a fellow named René Desjardins, came to me at my workshop a few days ago to complain about it. I had never met him before; none of the outsiders were ever admitted to our base on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau.

I was rather inclined to invite him to the springs myself, but I was too aware of the collection of older men sitting in the front part of the shop, watching my every move. They were there for the company, and to advise me at need, but also to keep an eye on me. And though I liked René well enough at first glance, of course I knew nothing about him. So I put him off as gently as I could. "I'm a newcomer here myself," I said. "I'm stilling finding out how everything works. I'll raise the question, on Sonnedi and we will see what we will see. Come and see me next week." That got me a number of sidelong looks from the observers (and a resigned grimace from René but no actual comments).

And so, this afternoon, I asked the question: why weren't les nouveaux hommes welcomed to the springs?

There was a great deal of hemming and hawing, before one of the older gentlemen undertook to explain to me about the need for an invitation to keep the racaille, the "riff-raff" out of town.

"It's far from clear to me that these young men are riff-raff, at least not all of them," I said. "They fought for us after all."

"But if they are good young men, why have they not returned to their own places?" said M. Tremblay. "Are they not welcome there?"

"Not every place is as well off as Bois-de-Bas," I said. "Perhaps they don't wish to work for their older brothers." There was much nodding at that. "Perhaps they simply like getting truly warm in the winter," I said, waving at the steaming water. "Few villages are blessed as we are." That got me a chuckle.

I asked Marc, for he sits by me, whether an invitation to the springs had ever been rescinded: whether anyone had been barred for bad behavior?

"We've had to chuck Drunken Jacques out in the snow a time or two when he got too boisterous," Marc said, "but that's not what you mean." There was more laughter, at which Drunken-Jacques raised his leather cup and took a half-bow.

M. Rouquet spoke up. "Once, a long time ago, there was a fellow who laid hands on my daughter. We told him he was no longer welcome, and he left town in shame." Several of the other gray heads nodded at this.

"So if we let someone in and they caused a problem, we could eject them?" I said.

"Well, but," began one large fellow.

"But what?"

"But there's no more room!"

I looked around the grotto in which we sat. It was a comfortable place, a large irregular chamber in which bronzewood benches and walkways had been installed, down in the water; for no one wishes to rest their backside rough stone. And indeed, the benches were tolerably full.

"Could we extend the space? Are there other grottoes like this one?"

"Well, yes…but then they would be out of earshot. Who knows what they might decide?" There was general agreement.

Aha! If another chamber were added, it would make it harder to have the kinds of discussion we were having now; and might, I thought, even lead to factionalism! That was probably going to happen in the long run anyway, as the town grew, but I quite saw the problem.

Conversation became general as I mulled it over.

"Perhaps," I began, but no one ever heard what I was about to say next, for there was a ruckus at the entrance to the chamber. Michel Marchand, who is quite a big fellow, had been given the place closest to the entrance. No one said that it was so that he could handle any interlopers, but that was why he was there. I found later on that he'd heard a noise and when he'd gone to investigate he'd found the goat starting to chew on a basket of clothing in the hut where we men undress. The hut (for I believe I have not described it before) has a stove for warmth, and is built around the entrance to our part of the hot springs.

It was quite a surprise for him, and for the rest of us, too, for no one wants to face an Armorican goat without proper gear, let alone in the altogether.

He relayed the news; and then, of course, everyone turned to look at me.

When I peeked into the hut I saw that it was the same goat I had found on my roof on Tuesday. It was chewing reflectively on someone's small-clothes.

"You're like a bad penny," I said out loud, which was a mistake. The goat stopped chewing, the garment dangling from either side of its mouth, and looked at me. Its ears flickered, and it made a muffled goatish noise in its throat, and started towards me with every indication of pleasure.

Fortunately it had started on the basket closest to the entrance. I snatched up the nearest, a good stout wicker laundry basket with hoops for handles, and fended it off with the bottom. The clothes inside (including mine, alas) went tumbling to the floor where the goat trod on them with its muddy hooves as I retreated.

I backed into the passage, which was delightfully narrow. "Marc," I shouted. "Marc, this is your problem!" There was a murmur of laughter and conversation from behind me as Marc made his way from his spot. Meanwhile, the goat stood there and watched me. It swallowed the small-clothes, and then tried to take a bite out of the bottom of my basket. I clouted it on the head, and it made its noise again. I don't know what to call it, but it was much louder now that the small-clothes were gone, and it echoed.

I made a rush to push it out into the room. Marc snatched up a basket of his own, garments flying everywhere, and between the two of us we managed to back it up to the hut's entry way, and to hold it off while Drunken Jacques and Michel Marchand got their clothes on so they could take over while we did the same. We had a bad moment when the goat nearly got into the ladies' dressing room, and there was a lot of shouting (and cries of " Qu'est-ce que c'est?") from the ladies' grotto. But in time we managed to drive it out into the snow, and several of the men stood guard while one of Marc's men strode off to the farm for protective gear and a goat-chain.

We all got home late, with lots of washing and mending of garments to do; and we still haven't decided what to do about les nouveaux hommes. What le Bon Dieu was thinking when He made goats I am sure I do not know.

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photo credit: marcoverch Geflochtene Körbe unterschiedlicher Größen und Formen am Naschmarkt via photopin (license)

Letters from Armorica- The Strays (10 January 35 AF)

First Letter

Dear Journal,

We had two unexpected visitors at the shop today, two quite different visitors; and yet, there's a certain similarity between them.

The most recent storm passed yesterday afternoon, leaving the sky clear, the air still and cold, and the homes of Bois-de-Bas nearly buried in snow. There is nothing so quiet in my experience as a small village in the early hours when the snow lies thick on the ground. Certainly I heard nothing like it in Yorke, a city which is never, ever quiet, not at any time.

But perhaps because of the shrouding snow, some noises travel more easily: laughter from my workshop, and an odd knocking noise from the roof over our heads. The knocking was accompanied by another, softer noise I couldn't quite make out.

The laughter was easily parsed. It was Bertrand, of course, come to see Luc; in the merriment there was a deeper tone with a bit of a catch that I'd come to know quite well over the summer on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau. Lying there in bed I could even detect that furtive note that indicated that the boys were trying (and failing) to be quiet. I knew if I went down I'd find the two of them sitting on the floor by the pot-bellied stove, telling each other stories and drinking my tea.

This was a not infrequent event, though the reasons for it had changed. Part of it was simple friendship, of course; the friendship the two boys had forged on the island was as strong as ever. But on the island, Bertrand had been the Head Boy, the chief of all the others, and while Jean-Marc was his lieutenant, Luc had constituted his general staff. Bertrand gave the orders, and relied on Luc to be sure that they were the right orders. Here in Bois-de-Bas, though, the boys had all returned to their homes and their parents. Bertrand was still chief among them, more or less, but they were no longer on detached duty in the field, as you might say, and the superior officers were now firmly in control.

But independent command can be hard to relinquish, and where Bertrand used to come to Luc to ask for advice, now he comes to ask for sympathy. I gather from the little I have overheard that he finds his father demanding, arbitrary, and unwilling to treat him as anything other than a child. "It's all right for you," he’d told Luc. "You get to work for M. Tuppenny. Mon père thinks I am still a little boy."

And so Bertrand's presence in my workshop was not quite a surprise, but the hour was most unusual. He always has to come early or late, of course, for both boys are fully occupied by their chores and other duties during the day, but this was early even for him. I suspected that M. Laveau, Bertrand's father, must have committed some supreme enormity (in Bertrand's eyes) to drive him to our house in the cold of the very early morning.

Neither Luc nor Bertrand has ever applied to me for help in this matter; nor have I spoken to M. Laveau but once, last Novembre, when I praised Bertrand to him on our return from the island. I have been resolved not to meddle unless they asked; but now I thought that I should perhaps have a quiet word with him.

As I lay there, pondering what to do, the knocking sound on the roof grew more insistent. Amelie rolled over and said in a sleepy voice, "Cher Armand, you must go see what it is." This was easier said than done, for it took me some time to prepare to go outside, and then when I got outside I immediately had to go back inside for thicker gloves and a shot of liquid courage.

When I stepped outside the house, that soft noise I could not quite make out clarified into a high-pitched nasal bleating: the chilling sound of an angry goat. I did not delay, I did not investigate further, I did not venture out into the snow, but instead I beat a hasty retreat into the house in search of any protective gear I could find. At last I had to settle for my oldest clothing: not as warm as what I had been wearing, but the least loss if rubbing against the goat's hide tore them to shreds. Then, and only then, I went back outside.

The goat was on the roof, straddling the ridge line. I recognized it immediately by a patch of white and gray on its forehead: it was one of the ewes from Marc's small herd that I'd first met while tending the goats on Onc' Herbert's farm, and then had had to milk regularly on L'Isle-du-Grand-Blaireau for the sake of Amelie and my little Anne-Marie. In civilized countries like Cumbria and Provençe I understand that it is often the farmer’s wife or the dairy maid who milks the cows and goats; but in Armorica it is man's work, and justly so. And sometimes the goat wins.

When the ewe saw me, it—for I cannot bring myself to call it "she"—gave a long piercing bleat, then vanished down the back slope of the roof where the snow drifts were deepest.

I ran back onto the porch and opened the door to the workshop. The two boys looked up in horror at being caught.

"Luc," I said, "find me a bucket, tout-de-suite. Bring it to me here. Bertrand, we have a goat problem. I shall need you to take a message to M. Frontenac."

Their eyes widened; the horror remained. No one, not anyone, fails to take Armorican goats seriously.

By the time I close the door the goat was upon me, butting me with its head—not in anger, but also not gently. There is nothing gentle about Armorican goats. I managed to keep my feet, and was able to take the bucket from Luc when he thrust it through the barely open door.

"Now fetch me a rope!" I said.

Fortunately the goat was eager to be milked, which is not to say that the process was easy or quick. But I got it done with only a few bruises and the loss of one trouser leg, and by that time dawn had brightened the sky and Bertrand had gotten his warm coat back on. With his help I managed to get a loop of rope around the goat's neck and tie it off to a post at the corner of the house.

"Now, Bertrand, I need you to go tell M. Frontenac that I have his goat."

"Oui, M. Tuppenny. But mon père…."

"I shall let him know," I said. "But be quick—that rope won't hold the ewe for long."

I sent Luc with a message to M. Laveau; and in due course Marc and Elise drove up in their sleigh with a length of leather-clad chain suitable for leading a recalcitrant goat. We had them with us for the noon meal, and then finally Amelie, Luc, and I were able to get on with things—I with a small limp, but I counted it cheap at the price.

Tomorrow morning I shall have to visit M. Laveau in person.

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